Page images

itself apart, and then erect it into a totality excluding and annihilating faith. I have shown that such an attempt inevitably breaks down. The theologian, on the other hand, endeavours to oppose authority to reason, to make all demonstration deductive, to erect revelation into a fatal criterium of all truths. His attempt must result in a revolt of the intellect.

If we look about for a simple and indecomposible idea which may harmonize these complex terms, and serve as the proportional mean between them, we shall find it in the idea of the indefinite, or that which is incessantly defining itself, without being ever completely successful, and which has therefore two faces, one intelligible to reason, the other accessible to the sentiment by faith.

Religion and philosophy are not two contradictory systems, but are the positive and negative poles, of which the axis uniting and conciliating them is the idea of the indefinite, which, expressing two complex terms, the body and the spirit, the finite and the infinite, represents the constitutive and fundamental nature of man.

The idea of the indefinite at once supposes and excludes limitation. The consciousness man has of his own personality distinguishes him to himself from everything else. This consciousness implies, whilst it denies, limitation. It is what I call the sentiment of the indefinite. When he affirms himself, he distinguishes himself from another. To recognise another is to place a limit at which his own personality halts and finishes. But although his personality halts and finishes at a limit through relation to others, it is in itself unlimited; and though having a beginning, it is, or conceives itself to be, without end. To conceive the annihilation of the conscious self is simply impossible. If you doubt this, make the experiment.


Thus, the idea of personality implies limit at the same time that it excludes it.

If man could regard himself as the absolute I-myself, without limitation, he would be the infinite; he would be God.

If he could only regard himself as limited, he would be an animal, nothing more.

But as he has the consciousness of the indefinite, the perfect, he cannot be limited only, to the exclusion of the unlimited—I do not say the infinite, but the indefinite, unlimited in one direction.

How it is that these two things, the limited and the unlimited, personality and distinction, subsist in one and the same being, simply and indivisibly, is the mystery of human life.

This is what psychologists have termed the Ego, the non-ego

and their relation—terms not only inseparable, but, indivisible, though perfectly distinct in their simultaneity. But, failing to perceive this unity, they have separated them, making of the Ego, man; of the non-ego, the world; and of their relation, the idea. A fatal mistake to scind what is by its nature indivisible. The secret of life consists in man bearing within him the world, and the idea, without the possibility, of their identification with himself. The world is not me, nevertheless I bear in my body the unity and the synthesis of the world and its laws. Nor is the idea me; it is the link uniting me to the not-me. Thus, in myself I am unlimited; in my relation to others I meet with limitation.

Suppose that I recognise only one of these modes of being, I deny the unlimited, and concentrate my attention on all that limits me, on the material objects of nature. What is the logical result? I fade into that universal

[ocr errors]

matter, which alone I recognise; I fall from materialism to atheism, and as a final conclusion, to universal negation, because I refuse to acknowledge that invisible force within which insurges against all bounds. But if, on the other hand, I allow myself to be carried away in the current of that power which rolls towards the infinite, I lose sight of the banks, and I disappear in the abyss of the infinite; 'I become a pantheist. So true is it the division produces ruin, desolation, and death.

Man will never be truly known either by examining him in his finite aspect as a creature, one of the animated atoms of the world, or by investigating him in his infinite aspect as a spiritual force, an active intellect. The animals are limited; they find their life, their repose, their happiness within limits; but limitation stifles man. Let him try to abstract himself from limits, and, like the Buddhist ascetic, he falls into nirvana, which is zero, a simple negation. Limitation is requisite to constitute his personality; illimitation is necessary to make that personality progressive.

But whence does man obtain his unlimited personality ? It cannot have been given him by anything that he touches, that surrounds him, for all matter is by its nature limited. This is the problem which religion solves, by laying down as a fundamental axiom the absolute existence of God, the source and author of the existence of man. Man created by God is placed between the infinite and the finite; he is the middle term uniting them through his conscience of the indefinite. Obedient to his true nature, bounded on all sides and in his own faculties, he inclines towards the indefinite; and transpiercing all limits, as electricity penetrates all bodies, he rises by a progression without term towards the infinite.

Life is not a mere exterior movement, the movement of the being in its relations to other beings, but it is also, and especially, an internal movement from the visible to the invisible, from the real to the ideal, from the finite to the infinite.

The conscience of the true, the beautiful and the good, is the sense of the perfect, which is in itself indefinite. Endeavour to conceive the beautiful in art, truth in science, goodness in morals, without the indefinite, and you will find it impossible; the sense of the beautiful is a sentiment infinite in variety and inexhaustible in modification. The delight dissolving into tears caused by the perception of the beautiful in music, painting and poetry, is the stretching onward of the soul towards perfection; and that which satisfies to-day will not satisfy to-morrow, for the ideal is never stationary. The restless thirst after knowledge in man is consequent on the idea of the unlimited. The acquisition of certainty in one branch of science spurs him on to discover it in another. Without the idea of the indefinite, mathematics would have halted at addition and subtraction, and never have risen through geometry to astronomy. The moral sense is also unlimited: it is well known that the better a man is, the higher is the ideal of virtue he sets before him, and the less satisfied he is with himself.

1 I may mention here a remarkable fact. When I was about fifteen years old, I dreamt that I saw an angel with a coloured light in his hand, standing in the grass on a starry night. The colour was entirely different from any that we know. I recall it at times, and try to express my idea of it; but I am paralyzed, for it is an idea so entirely sui generis and so primitive that I can no more describe it than I could describe red or blue. The only way to express it would be by coining a new word. This fact has often led me to suppose that perhaps colours, forms of beauty and musical notes may be infinite in variety, but that our limited faculties can only catch and retain some. It is well known that many notes of music are inaudible to the ear.


What is the beautiful? what is truth? what is goodness? These ideas cannot be defined; they can be seen, felt, but they cannot be formulated. For a moment they receive definition, but they are permanently indefinable; they are not fixed points in themselves, but, like the cardinal points, fixed by the position man occupies towards them. This is one of the conditions inseparable from the perfectability of

The danger to him is lest he should consider those points which are gratuitously assumed to facilitate his advance as fixed realities; just as the astronomer would fall into error if he were to regard the cardinal points as real entities, and not as relative terms, which never occupy the same place in the horizon for two minutes successively, although they always express the same relation of the globe to its centre. Now this is precisely the mistake philosophers have made who have sought to enclose life, that is to say, movement, within fixed, immovable points.

How is man to be defined who is precisely the indefinable ? how is he who excludes limits to be shut within them ? but also, how is he to be known except by definition and the limitation he implies? Such is the antinomy everywhere and always reappearing.

The indefinite, we have said, is that which at the same time implies and excludes limitation. Such is the true sense of Hegel's logical method, which we shall apply to the subject under consideration.

By his famous axiom, “I think, therefore I am,” Descartes placed the principle of the absolute in the I-myself. Spinoza, applying this principle to God, or rather to the totality of things, deduced from it pantheism, as a logical consequence. But Kant was the first, by turning philosophy into a true metaphysical algebra, to demonstrate that from this point of view theoretical and practical reason

« PreviousContinue »